Since he was drafted in June of 2015, Jack Eichel has taken over as the face of the Buffalo Sabres. The Boston native entered the league under the shadow of Connor McDavid, who was the best prospect in the draft since Sidney Crosby.
Since then, Eichel has seemed to be on the back burner when it comes to recognition around the league. He’s acknowledged as a great young player in the NHL, but not always in the same breath as Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and McDavid. As hard as it may be to believe in only his second season, Eichel might be one of the most underrated players in the game.
Numbers Don’t Lie
This season alone, Eichel is putting together some of the best numbers of a 20-year old since 1995. In 46 games played this season, he’s scoring 0.98 points per game, which would rank him seventh all-time in that category with 15 games still remaining.
The former second overall pick is on pace to finish with the 21st-most points since 2000 for a player in his first two seasons, with 116 points. However, Eichel is on an 80-point pace pro-rated over an 82-game season. If he would not have missed the first 21 games of the season, with an 80-point season he would then move up to 11th with 136 points in his first two seasons.
Eichel sits seventh in points among players 20-years old or younger and third in points per game this season. When you pro-rate his point per game total over 67 games, which the Sabres have played thus far, he would have 66 points on the season. That would be good enough to put Eichel second, only behind McDavid in total points for players under 20.
If you want to take it a step further, those 66 pro-rated points would rank him tied for ninth in the league in scoring right now among all players. Not to mention Eichel carries the longest active point streak in the NHL of 11 games. Outside of Buffalo, though, you’ve heard very little talk of said streak.
Of course, we don’t know what would have really happened over the first 21 games of the season had Eichel played. He could have gotten off to a slow start but could have also gotten off to a quick start. The high ankle sprain he suffered in practice the day before the season started could be one of the reasons
Eichel is not in the conversation with the big names in the league. His team struggled without him and lower point totals compared to players like Matthews, Laine and McDavid make it easy to overlook the star center.
Even still, the season he’s putting together deserves more recognition than it has received. We all remember the daily updates of McDavid’s triumphant return from his collarbone injury last season.
Location, Location, Location
Eichel isn’t overlooked just because of the injury this past summer or being in the shadow of McDavid’s draft year. The other primary reason is location. Eichel plays in the smaller American market of Buffalo. While the city is one of the most passionate in the league, it’s still a small market.
The other three in McDavid, Matthews and Laine all play in the Canadian market. Edmonton and Winnipeg are small markets as well but again are located in a country where hockey is the primary sport. Matthews, on the other hand, plays in the hockey mecca of Toronto. The bright lights will be on the former first overall pick for the entirety of his career while wearing a Leafs sweater.
The majority of the mainstream media in the NHL comes out of Canada. So, of course, those three players will get the run before the likes of Eichel or another young rising star like Zach Werenski. It doesn’t come as a shock that the bigger markets or Canadian markets, in general, will get more play over Buffalo. However, a player of Eichel’s talent and long-term potential should not be overlooked by the hockey world, regardless of where he plays.
Eichel will continue to quietly put together a fantastic season and continue to be overlooked in terms of the mainstream media, unless his point streak gets to a number that cannot go ignored. It’s hard to fathom how a player of Eichel’s stature can be considered “underrated,” but the lack of recognition league-wide tells the story.